One Way or Another is a film that those of us who grew up in America may struggle to understand. By 1976, Italy felt as much in crisis as our country feels at times, but it went way beyond the issues we’ve been dealing with. During gli anni di piombo (the years of lead), political turmoil went beyond protest to become outright terrorism, with bomb attacks and left and right groups that went from idealogy to being paramilitary groups prepped for combat.
A fascist takeover felt like it may happen any day, just as the Communists taking over could also be possible. Then there was the Italian secret service infiltrating groups, creating their own and the ruling Christian Democrats infighting and falling apart. Then their leader Aldo Moro was kidnapped and executed by the Red Brigade. We never had anything like that happen lately, right?
So yeah, this movie may have a disclaimer about the fact that it’s not based in reality, but it totally is.
It’s also about a country dealing with an epidemic that no one understands or can control, so maybe it still hits a bit too close to home.
So into this strange world that is definitely our own, we find the Christian Democrats hiding out at Zafer, which could be a retreat or a hotel or a prison, a place where they go through Bohemian Grove-style exercises that are much like the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, which help followers to “discern the will of God in their lives, leading to a personal commitment to follow Jesus whatever the cost.”
These exercises are to help them atone for their corruption and lack of ethics, but perhaps the most lawless of all of them is the man guiding them, Don Gaetano (Marcello Mastroianni). But as the supposed religious activities continue, a series of murders also begin.
Director Ello Petri lived the life to be able to tell this story. He was expelled for political reasons from religious school San Giuseppe di Merode and joined the youth chapter of the Italian Communist Party, which he left after the 1956 Hungarian uprising. His films, like We Still Kill the Old Way, A Quiet Place in the Country, The 10th Victim and Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion may flirt with the genres of crime, giallo and science fiction, but they also have something to say about the direction of Italy and its future. Sadly, he died at just 53 years old from cancer and we were robbed of more works that have so much to say.